Sunday, February 9, 2014

Significant Albums: Marillion - Marbles [Deluxe/Campaign Edition] (2004)


The most recent absolute classic record from Marillion. And it's actually 10 years old this year, which I must be dating myself, because it doesn't feel even close to that long ago it came out.

There's a long list of reasons why this record is so significant to me. Maybe 1st and foremost, when it was released in 2004, it was coming off two good, but not amazing records by a band who I fairly or unfairly, hold maybe at a higher standard than any other given my own personal love and bias towards them. In other words, they were at the time, and still remain my favorite band of all-time.

Anoraknaphobia and are both records I enjoyed at the time and still do, but don't place as highly as many their others. And I would say even going back to This Strange Engine, it had been since Afraid of Sunlight, when they genuinely made a record that I loved every moment of. And I really came to the point of not expecting anything on that level again.

But they did it. They totally did it on this record. And I had done the whole campaign for Anorak, but after that, I just decided to buy this after sampling it.

But this was hit right out of the park. Every track stands out in some way. "The Invisible Man" I loved when I 1st heard it, and still love now. The crescendo is just so infectious and moody. It's one of Steve Hogarth's best vocal performances, and one of the best musical climaxes ever written.

And the scary thing was originally when I bought it in the Summer of 2004, my copy didn't include" Ocean Cloud." I was busy that Summer adoring that track, "Neverland," and "Drilling Holes" among the rest of the record, but the US Edition didn't include "Ocean Cloud," "Genie," "The Damage" and I think one other track. I do recall though having to special order a copy of the cd per either Roadrunner Records or The Electric Fetus, and being extremely pissed off not for the fact it didn't include those tracks, but THE PRICE being like $25 or $30. And I unhappily paid said music store that much for the cd, but could not figure out why it was so bloody expensive.

The explanation is kind of a bad memory and mystery to me still, but my guess is I couldn't find it in retail or figured it would take too long to import. I recall around this time, I wanted-to, but was unable to use my cc or paypal on the Racket Records site. But why I didn't use Amazon or cduniverse (or even Ebay) I guess I may never know. I suppose it may have been the whole import price and time, and I was being impatient wanting the bloody thing asap.

But I would guess it was sometime around July or early August (Mike Portnoy's forum history would likely show it) I saw all the buzz around the extra/campaign edition tracks, I was able to find them eventually and totally got won over. "Ocean Cloud" I eventually grew to like maybe more than "The Invisible Man." The dynamics, and layers, and samples on that song created such a wonderful atmosphere. Pink Floydy in a lot of ways.  It is kind of a melancholy piece lyrically, about a man, possibly who makes his living at sea, not wanting to settle down like most normal people.

"You can take all the boys and the girls in the world
I wouldn't trade them this morning for my sweet Ocean Cloud
I've seen too much of life
So the sea is my wife and a sweet ocean cloud is a mistress I'm allowed
for now."

I know Hogarth has had relationship up and downs, and not every one has worked out for him, So maybe writing about a man retreating to the water, and attaching himself to that environment, it became his way of living. Maybe lonely in some ways, but to him, therapeutic perhaps. I dunno, I've always sort of been taken away by the music more than the lyrics directly. Although I do enjoy when he drops certain things like Barbados and radios. I guess my life being a homebody and someone who hadn't had much if any luck in relationships, I kind of related to some of this. The water or ocean was his sanctuary. I often listen to this song wanting to be lost at sea, but safe and at peace.

"Genie" is another track I adore on this album.  Simple, yet the use of vocal textures is just perfectly captured for the tone. And it has a great climax as well.

I'm scared of everything I am
I'm scared of opening the can
I'm scared of losing who I am
Think I might've taken all I can
I let the genie out of the box

"Drilling Holes" has that wonderful driving, adrenaline infused riff that leads to that calming line "It was just one of those days When the mind strays One of those days When everyone plays." The shifting dynamics and some have mentioned the Beatles influence, stick out among other parts of this track. I also for some reason think of the story Lord of the Flies when listening to this song. Maybe it tells the story of kids playing amongst themselves. The "insects" reference maybe I think of with the insects or *flies* on the island those kids are on.

"Neverland" is probably the most loved tune on this album universally, and I get why. It's really dreamy and almost inspiring. Although I'll admit, I often think of Peter Pan, when I hear it (beyond the title), I have no idea if the band or Hogarth specifically titled it for that Peter Pan reference. The lyric "I want to be someone, someone I want to be" etc, I kind of hear a dream of so many out there, wanting to find themself making a mark on the world. Whether it be famous, or just accomplish something. And it does speak to me and many others in that sense. It also does just stand out as a wonderful closing track, with an infectious flow to it. The whole vocal echoing with Mark Kelly's floating synths just give you an incredibly uplifting feeling. It actually might be a great tune to play at a wedding or awards ceremony or something. I could see an Orchestra totally bringing it to even greater heights actually. It's just 1 of those pieces of music that almost transcends it's original format.

But I cannot also forget so many other parts of this record. "Angelina" is a cool sad/relatable mesmerizing track where I think of hearing a soothing voice late at night on the radio (and in fact I have played it on the radio).

"Fantastic Place" is frankly, pretty fantastic. A fantasy tune, that musically I hear a lot of U2 on, but in such a cool way.

"The Damage" is very Beatles-like. It almost sounds like something from the Abbey Road period. Very catchy. I wish I could say the same about "Lucky Man."

"The Only Unforgivable Thing" I probably think of for hearing some dude at the show I saw in Chicago say to another person talking "the only unforgivable thing is talking during a Marillion concert." Lol, but it leads to in a classic Marillion element, something very cool in the bridge. I swear Marillion have written like 10 or more tunes like this, and I love it when it happens. Where it's a song that starts out slow, and doesn't sound like it's going anywhere, and then eventually starts to get trippy and rocks out in such a great way.

"Don't Hurt Yourself" is probably the catchiest track on Marbles, and one that I never get sick of. It almost sounds like The Eagles or Neil Young or something, but the melody just stays in your head for hours.

"You're Gone" is another track that could have been played on the radio. The wall-of-sound textures at times, with Hogarth's impassioned lyrics and vocal lines. 'You are the light, you have the day, I have the night." I mean it does speak to saying goodbye to someone, but almost in a good way. Almost like if you were a parent sending your kid off to camp or college or something (or in a relationship with someone, and they are leaving to college or for a job or some other reason), but you still have the memories or something. It almost is a song that could be sad, but actually ends up being happy.

And then there is the "Marbles Suite" which I think adds a very storybook-quality to this album. Almost in narrative, or telling a story of someone's childhood (Hogarth's I recall reading once), in 4 phases or chapters at least. 

This is a double album, that seems to work best as a double rather than single record. The production/mixing/mastering also stands out among many other parts of it.

But I think maybe the most significant part of this album was it really proved to me to never doubt this band again. Even if they never make a record at this level again, I just can't discount that 25+ years into their career, they made a record as good as anything they'd ever done. It felt like to me, Marillion saying, yeah,we may be older, but we still know how to make an album you can revere like many of our others. And it'll still sound modern and not exactly like our music from so many years ago.

And who knows, it would not surprise me to see them make another record this good again.